BR25C: Vegas in Space

May 20, 2013

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
May 20, 2013

Buck Rogers in the 25th Century

Vegas in Space — Season 1, Episode 5

Synopsis

The episode opens with Buck Rogers and Col. Wilma Deering unsuccessfully battling “hatchet fighters,” which confound the starfighters’ automatic targeting systems. Rogers’ vessel sustains a direct hit, but this turns out to be only a training exercise.

The Earth squadron having been supposedly demolished by what are described as the remarkably speedy and maneuverable hatchet fighters, a discouraged Deering orders all ships to return to base. En route, Rogers tries to persuade the colonel that the Terran pilots can destroy their enemies if the computer initiates targeting but humans actually pull the trigger. Deering is skeptical, saying that the Earthlings are unable to do so.

In New Chicago, a young woman named Felina returns home and reviews her video messages. (Rather charmingly and quaintly, these appear to have been recorded on some kind of linear tape device — there’s a tell-tale squeal when Felina hits the rewind button.) The second of two messages is an urgent warning from the woman’s boss, who tells her to leave her apartment immediately because she is in danger. Just after a perplexed Felina finishes watching the message, she is surprised by something off-screen that has been stalking her since she arrived home.

The woman’s boss, Armott (?), meets with Dr. Elias Huer and a Maj. Marla Landers. Armott is a suspected illegal arms dealer and slave trader, but authorities have never been able to pin any crimes on him. And they never will, Armott declares, unless they gain access to his secure files.

However, he is willing to hand those files over if Earth rescues Felina from Morgan Velosi, a rival criminal mastermind. Felina, the man states, is an innocent young “digital programmer” who inadvertently saw some kind of crucial computer code that would compromise Armott’s operations. (What is this code? How could it harm Armott? Never mind; the code amounts to an intangible Macguffin.)

Although Huer seems eager to nail Armott, he turns down the deal. However, as the crime lord is about to exit, Landers muses that he probably would be able to provide hatchet fighter technical specifications that would enable the Terrans to figure out how to defeat them. Armott says he’ll do so, provided Felina is returned safely. Both men agree to the bargain.

Deering interrupts a solo golf practice session in Rogers’ apartment to recruit him to accompany Landers on the rescue mission. Rogers agrees because he is enamored of the game of ten-eleven — blackjack, as we primitives would call it — and because he has a rather lascivious interest in the officer assigned to the mission. (“Oh, that Maj. Landers,” he exclaims.)

Dr. Theopolis and Twiki hand Rogers and Landers some gadgets (in Q-like fashion, á la James Bond) and the two take off in a starfighter. Landers shows Rogers pictures of Felina, the evil Velosi (owner of the orbiting titular space city of sin, known as Sinaloa) and an also-evil quasi-psychic interrogator whom Landers is sure will question Felina — thereby destroying the girl in the process. (Since Felina is shown to be in near hysterics during all of her scenes in captivity, destroying her would presumably not be at all difficult.)

Our heroes infiltrate Sinaloa and put their plan into motion. By using his brain to count digital cards, Rogers wins big at “ten-eleven” and lectures the audience about how people nowadays are afraid to use their brains, unlike him. He also connects with a beautiful female casino entertainer named Tangy, who asks Rogers to buy her freedom. Rogers demurs.

Landers pretends to be a jealous game-player who reports Rogers to Velosi. This gets Rogers tailed by a thuggish casino security officer. It also draws the amorous interest of the sinister Velosi, who insists that Landers join him for a drink and then for a private rendezvous.

The thug tails Rogers to the hero’s quarters and enters with gun drawn. Rogers is expecting exactly this, however; he disarms the guard and knocks him down and out. Then he persuades the thug to swallow some kind of truth-telling pill that induces good cheer and bountiful humor. A chuckling Rogers interrogates the chuckling guard and learns about where Felina is held captive. Unfortunately, there are only four keys that can unlock one of the doors securing the space where she is confined.

Meanwhile, Velosi’s rendezvous with Landers is interrupted by the arrival of the interrogator. Sinaloa’s master tells Landers that he will meet her in her quarters in five minutes.

Rogers, despairing of being able to secure a key, tells Landers that he’s willing to abandon the mission. But she has an idea…

Velosi arrives at Landers’ quarters and unlocks the door with his Sinaloa master key when she doesn’t open it immediately. Landers, pleased at this development, pulls a gun. But then a secondary Velosi thug enters from another door with his pistol out. The crime lord orders the thug to kill Landers, but before he can comply, Rogers emerges from his hiding spot and disarms this guard, too. He then takes the key and blasts the room’s control panels, thereby sealing in the two bad guys.

In the hallway, Rogers tells Landers to ready the starfighter for departure. As they split up, Tangy threatens to report Rogers to the authorities. However, he agrees to liberate her, hands her his pistol and dispatches her with Landers, who had barely taken a step toward the hangar. Having disarmed himself, Rogers heads off to rescue Felina.

He accomplishes the rescue by sneaking into the chamber in which she’s held and dropping down from an overhead conduit just as the interrogator is about to inject a tied-down and resigned Felina with a deadly drug. Despite having been in meltdown mode ever since she was captured, she has the presence of mind to kick away a gun that has been aimed at our hero. The martial arts master from the 20th century then disarms and knocks out his remaining opponents.

Using concealed explosives and detonators that Theopolis gave to Rogers before the journey began, the antediluvian astronaut and his companion make good their escape from Velosi’s fifth-rate stormtrooper wanna-bes. (Felina knocks one down by swinging a rifle at him.)

But their getaway vehicle, accommodating Rogers and Landers in its front seat and Felina and Tangy in the back seat, is pursued by four hatchet fighters. Rogers, at the Terran starfighter’s helm, annihilates two of the enemies by tricking them into a head-on collision. Another is eliminated when he induces an opposing flyer to shoot and blow up one of his compatriots. Because there is no time to switch tactical and piloting controls, and because the hatchet fighters evade the starfighter’s automatic targeting system, Landers must screw up her nerve and manually pull the trigger to destroy the final enemy. This she successfully does.

The episode’s denouement takes place in Huer’s office, where Armott surrenders the computer keys to his incriminating computer records. He explains to Felina why he has stuck his neck out for a low-level employee who barely knows him: She, not surprisingly, turns out to be Armott’s secret child. Also, Landers — cocky from having manually shot down an enemy craft — nearly declines Armott’s offer of hatchet fighter schematics. However, Rogers ensures that she takes the data, saying the Terrans should be on the safe side.

Analysis

Overall, this is a goofy but entertaining episode — a sort of high-calorie, nutritionally valueless lemon meringue rendered in television form.

I found it curious that Landers, a new character, is dispatched on the mission instead of Deering. However, this makes a certain amount of sense, because why would Earth needlessly risk its chief military officer on this kind of mission?

The portrayals of all three main antagonists — crime lords Armott and Velosi and the interrogator — are juicily villainous. Also, the actress who plays Landers exudes a more consistently believable competence than Erin Gray did as Deering in the earliest episodes.

I wasn’t as comfortable with Gil Gerard’s performance as the hero, for reasons that aren’t entirely clear to me. Take the scene in which Rogers interrogates the drugged thug is simply silly; the protagonist simply appears to be a chucklehead, not someone who’s trying to save a young woman’s life. I couldn’t escape the feeling that, say, William Shatner as Star Trek’s Captain Kirk or Martin Landau as Space: 1999’s Cmdr. John Koenig or even any actor on Battlestar Galactica (either version) would have played this scene better than Gerard does here.

But to be fair, my discomfort may be because Rogers as written is a bit more of a happy-go-lucky rogue than the other heroes I’ve cited. And Gerard does have a nice downbeat moment when he fatuously recalls carousing in the real Las Vegas with an astronaut pal and then suddenly remembers that the man in question has been dead for centuries.

One bit of narrative illogic in this episode bugs me tremendously. Rogers’ seemingly impulsive choice to hand his laser pistol to Tangy (when Landers is already armed) before heading off to rescue Felina is simply baffling.

The fight scenes in this episode are approximately one part decently executed to two parts cheesily executed. The special effects are half good, half cheesy. There’s a particularly nice model shot of Sinaloa and its hangar bay.

Earlier, I called Velosi’s uniformed goons fifth-rate stormtroopers. They simply have to be seen to be disbelieved — they’re just that bad. They look dumb and act worse…

Although Deering has few scenes in this episode, it seems the series has already established the paradigm for her relationship with Rogers: Serious talk mixed with cutesy banter. This is modeled in the dialogue of the opening scene, where Rogers (informally calling the colonel Wilma) abruptly asks Deering if she has plans for the night; when she says she doesn’t, Rogers replies, “Oh, that’s too bad. I do!”

A little of this goes a long way. Unfortunately, in the second of Deering’s three scenes, when she recruits Rogers for the mission to Sinaloa, there’s quite a lot more of this banter.

Credits

Gil Gerard…Buck Rogers

Erin Gray…Wilma Deering

…Elias Huer

Mel Blanc…Twiki (voice)

Guest stars

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Crew

Anne Collins…Writer

…Director

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